Sports are increasingly popular in Burma and are an excellent talking point for anyone on a tour of Burma. Lucky visitors may even get an opportunity to see some sporting activity whilst travelling around the countryside. Here are some of the sports commonly seen in Myanmar.
There are references to kickboxing taking place in Burma during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and this is thought to be Burma’s longest running sport. Myanma-let-hwei is the Burmese term for kick boxing which visitors on a cheap tour of Burma may see when visiting towns and villages. Typically a dirt ring is set up on a temporary basis and fighting is done bare fisted. In Burmese kick boxing all parts of the body are considered a fair target. Any part of the body except the head can be used by one opponent to hit the other. Spectators are likely to see high kicks to areas like the neck, ribs being hooked with knees, and elbow thrusts at the face area. Anyone watching who is on a Burma vacation will be amazed to learn that a simple punch is considered weak here, and kicking just a warm up.
Football and Cricket
In Burma the sport of football is taking off with teams in many of the major cities. Anyone touring Burma will find crowds of people round a TV set whenever any of the big European games are being played. Tea shops are particularly busy during big football matches. Like most of South Asia, Burma has a national cricket team as a legacy of British occupancy. This game is very popular in Burma and attracts crowds whenever a game is being played.
Another popular sport in Burma is Chinion. It is also known as cane ball and involves a rattan ball being kicked about. Anyone on an inexpensive tour of Burma could find themselves taking part as it is informal and a lot of fun. Players form a circle and the aim of the game is to keep the ball airborne by kicking it. There is a formal version of this game too. This involves six players and a circle with a 22 foot circumference. Using 30 different techniques the players have to keep the ball in the air. To make it even more complex there are six surfaces on the leg and foot and time allocated to each technique during play. Points are scored for successful kicks and when the wrong technique or body part is used the point is subtracted. Another version of Chinion is played using volleyball net.
Anyone on a Burma vacation will see other popular sports in the country. These include scuba diving off the coast, and golf. Hiking is popular with visitors to Burma and there are also places where people can play tennis and badminton. Most of the fun, however, is from the traditional sports in Burma and watching the techniques and matches being played. In Burma visitors will find lots of sports and activities to enjoy.
Everyone's Cambodia vacation includes Siem Reap and the Angkor Temples. Yet many people never continue their Cambodia tour into other parts of Cambodia and that's a shame. A short trip from Siem Reap you'll find Cambodia's second city – Battambang and that offers a very different travel experience from the temples.
Founded in the 18th century; Battambang was a sleepy trading town in Northern Cambodia. Goods would travel down the Sangkae River and then be unloaded here before being sold on to the rest of the country. It was annexed on a regular basis by Thailand across the years and it wasn't until a French military tour reclaimed the city for Cambodia in 1907 that it became a stable part of the country.
The French used Battambang as a prison town and built a railway terminal (currently disused) in the town to transport goods around Cambodia. Even today there's plenty of beautiful colonial architecture to admire on the streets of Battambang. Currently Battambang is the center of Cambodia's textile industry.
What to See
A trip to Battambang wouldn't be the same without a visit to the bamboo railway. It's a vacation favorite. When the railway fell into disuse – the Khmer locals came up with an interesting way to make use of the tracks. They built handcarts out of bamboo using wheels from the rolling stock that was slowly rusting away. They these vehicles are then "pumped" up and down the line by a hard working local. When two cars meet on the single track; they lift one cart off the track to let the other pass.
Psar Nat offers some of the best Art Deco architecture you'll see anywhere on your tour of Cambodia; check out the swimming pool, the train station and the central market. Also keep your eye out for the interesting blends of Chinese, French, Khmer and Italian architecture all around the area. The Battambang Museum is a sadly under-rated place and it contains some wonderful Angkor-era statues which are much more varied than those available in the Museum in Phnom Penh.
You should also visit the Governor's Mansion which was designed for the last Thai governor of Cambodia by an Italian architect. You can't go inside but you are free to travel round the grounds.
There's a Killing Field just outside of town at Phnom Sampeu. We recommend you get there just before sunset as the most exciting part of a visit is to watch the huge swarms of bats exiting the local cave there at that time of night. It really is incredible and it's estimated that over 1 million bats may take off for the local countryside from here.
Do visit Wat Banan, also just outside of Battambang too, it's known as "the miniature Angkor Wat" and unlike Angkor Wat it's still in use as a practicing Buddhist temple today. Cambodia's re-emerging monasteries are incredibly spiritual places and are very much worth a visit. At night why not visit the Phare Circus which has nightly performances of athleticism and skill from some of the most disadvantaged children in the province.
Wherever you go during your China vacation – you'll be able to sample the local tea. As you'll discover on your China trip; tea is a serious business in China and you'll never travel far from a tea market or a tea shop. If you'd like to enjoy China's favorite beverage from a unique perspective on your tour – why not check out our list of 10 things you might not know about China and tea?
- You'd have to travel back over 5,000 years to find the first cup of tea in China. It's said that the Emperor Shen Nong discovered how nice tea was to drink when tea leaves fell in his boiled water from a nearby tea plant.
- Another trip of over 3,000 years into China's past would be required to find the first cultivate tea plant; it's in Yunnan (the South Western most province of China).
- Would you believe that tea was not popularized as a drink until 200 B.C? If you'd have taken a tour of China before then – you'd have found it used almost uniquely as a medicine or occasionally the leaves would be found on a menu as a food item.
- The first tea house would have appeared in the Tang Dynasty period; you'd have had to have booked your vacation in around 600-900 A.D. to have had a cup there.
- The "Cha Jing" was the very first guide to preparing tea and it was written by Lu Yu in China nearly 1,000 years ago. It's an interesting trip through the culture of tea and its importance to society even all that time ago.
- Tea didn't make it to Europe from China until the late 16th century. It is said to have been transported there by a Jesuit Priest called Jasper de Cruz. Given that Jasper was Portuguese it may be that the tea was shipped from Macau.
- The name of tea in Chinese is "cha" and this name is commonly used in many other tea drinking cultures such as Russia. The word "tea" is similar to the way that the Chinese of Xiamen pronounce the word in their local dialect.
- There are 5 distinct categories of tea in China. Green tea (which is the most prevalent), black tea (which is similar to most Western tea), oolong teas, white tea and post-fermentation teas. Each category may use the same raw product but processes and/or ferments it in a different way.
- China is perhaps unsurprisingly the largest producer of tea on earth and nearly 30% of all cups of tea in the world originate there. India is the other major producer of tea.
- If you'd like a cup of the world's most expensive tea; you can find it in Sichuan on your China vacation. The tea comes from Ya'an province and it's expensive because the tea plant is fertilized with panda droppings! How much is expensive? One cup is currently around 1,000 RMB or $200 USD!
Your Laos vacation has to stop in Luang Prabang; it's the number one reason that people take a Laos trip because of it's incredible UNESCO world heritage site status (that's the whole city as a heritage site) and because it's a great place to use as a base for further travel in Laos. One thing you might want to squeeze into your Laos tour is Nong Khiaw a beautiful town not far from Luang Prabang.
Getting to Nong Khiaw
You used to be able to take a boat trip from Luang Prabang all the way to Nong Khiaw; unfortunately the government of Laos is currently building a dam on the river and you'd need to stop at the dam and change boats now. The whole journey takes 2-3 hours depending on the time of year.
About Nong Khiaw
Nong Khiaw is a charmingly rustic township sat on the banks of the River Ou. It offers access to some of the most strikingly beautiful mountain scenery in Laos. Like most small towns in Laos it's easy to get around and you can travel round town on foot or take a bike tour of the town if you wish. There are plenty of things to do in the area. One of the things that you might really enjoy on your Laos vacation is the "100 waterfalls hiking tour" which offers you a chance to get deep into the mountainous karst countryside and see a lot of waterfalls (not exactly 100 but a lot).
There are also plenty of short hikes, abseiling and climbing opportunities in the vicinity.
If you'd like to get in touch with the indigenous cultures of Laos then take a trip from Nong Khiaw out to one of the local Khmu or Hmong villages. These ethnic minorities live very different lives to the majority of people in Laos and currently they're far enough from the beaten path that they haven't become resentful of visitors. In fact you're likely to get a very cheery welcome in these villages indeed.
The Pha Tok caves are also easily accessible from the city and you can see where the Pathet Lao remained out of sight of their enemies during the Second Indochina war. You need to be careful at the caves because the steps are incredibly steep and don't forget to collect a torch at the bottom or you won't be able to see very much. You don't need to pay the hopeful "guide" anything at the caves – he's not an employee of the caves and you're not obligated to give in to his demands for a few dollars.
Once you've finished in the caves head off to Namlin Restaurant (near the local Wat) and enjoy the best food in Laos. It's a family run restaurant with real attention to detail and authenticity. This is Lao food the way the locals have it and it's genuinely superb. It's also incredibly cheap and a meal can cost as little as $2 including drinks!
A short trip from Southern Vietnam's "capital" Ho Chi Minh City (better known as Saigon) there's a whole other side of Vietnam to explore on your vacation. Travel away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial center of Vietnam and take a tour of Vietnam's beautiful countryside and see how life on the Mekong is slowly being changed by encroaching modernity.
About Can Tho
After a trip to Saigon, a first glance at Can Tho can leave you feeling like you're in a tiny fishing village, in fact the city is home to over 1.5 million people and is the largest settlement in the Mekong Delta. The city has been growing rapidly and is a minor trade center for the rural trades that dominate the region as well as a burgeoning industrial center in its own right. The change in Vietnam since the opening up of its economy is best witnessed in places like Can Tho.
What's To See and Do in Can Tho?
The first thing to do is take tour of the local Buddhist temples which are some of the best in Vietnam. There's a Khmer Pagoda on Hoa Binh Street which, if your vacation doesn't include Cambodia, may be one of the best opportunities to see the differences between Vietnamese and Cambodian Buddhism. The Quang Duc Pagoda is a highly active temple and you are welcome throughout the day. Vietnam's Buddhist culture is very welcoming.
Then head off to the Xuan Khanh Quarter and get a feel for the town itself. Travel the length of Mau Than Street and you may not realize its significance unless you already knew. During the Vietnam War this was the place that the infamous Tet Offensive was launched during the Vietnamese New Year.
A trip to the student quarter of Xuan Kanh offers some of the best budget food in Vietnam and of course, many friendly students looking to practice their English. You can make some real Vietnamese friends here without constantly being badgered for money (as is more likely at some of the more touristy areas of the city).
After that take a taxi to Hai Ba Trung Street which offers a pleasant walk down the Mekong and a chance to book a boat tour of the river and a visit to the floating markets. The floating markets here in Vietnam are truly authentic and nothing like the spectacle of tourism that you'll find in Thailand. Here they are for local farmers to trade their produce as quickly as possible and return to their farms. Thus instead of finding a large platform that you can walk on floating in the river – you find a collection of boats and you visit the stores on those boats based on the produce tied to the sail.
We'd urge you to try the fresh fruit; it really doesn't get any better as it's normally been picked the same day.
End the day in Can Tho taking in the majesty of the Mekong from one of the many bridges spanning the water. It makes for a superb photograph to show the folks back home too.
As you can see wherever you travel in China, the Chinese are among the most industrious people on earth. On your China vacation, you'll see the industrial landscape created by the current modernization of the nation particularly if your China tour reaches Beijing. Yet, China (as you'll discover on your trip) has a reputation for copying in the modern world rather than creating. We'd like to show you some of the products that China has created and the world has merely forgotten about their origin.
- After a hot day's travel round the Great Wall or the Terracotta Warriors you'll probably want to sit down somewhere cool and enjoy one of China's greatest creations – ice cream. They were eating ice-cream in China nearly 3 millennia ago and it was the Italian explorer, Marco Polo, who "discovered" it on his tour of China and brought it back to Europe who popularized the treat elsewhere.
- Another treat during your China vacation will be to stop and enjoy a nice cold Chinese beer like Tsing Tao. The Chinese were making alcoholic beverages over 4,000 years ago! During the time of the Xia Dynasty beer was drunk everywhere in the region. There's no mention of beer in Western history until the 12th Century in Italy.
- If it starts to rain during your China trip then the umbrella you used to protect yourself from the downpour was also invented in China. It was invented for a Wei Dynasty Emperor to protect him from the sun and the rain back in the 5th century A.D.
- Then there's the ultimate China vacation souvenir – porcelain ware. Porcelain is a unique ceramic product which relies on an awful lot of heat from the kiln to deliver the whiteness of the end product. It was invented during the Sui Dynasty period.
- If you've ever enjoyed a game of dominoes, then you have the Chinese to thank for it. The first dominoes were created in China in the year 1100 A.D.
- We may not like to mention this stuff in public but we're all grateful for its existence; toilet paper. This was invented in the 6th century A.D. in China and was mentioned in an historical chronicle (the scholars of the time were very pleased about this). By the 14th century 10 million toilet rolls a year were being manufacture in a single Chinese province!
- The earthquake detector. Surely not? Yes, back in the year 132 A.D. Chang Heng developed a seismograph that would have been able to detect earthquakes. It took nearly 1,700 years before another attempt would be made at this in the West.
- The clock; if you need to know the time on your China tour the reason that someone can tell you is because of the invention of Yi Xing back in the Tang Dynasty period. The world's first mechanical clock appeared in China in the 7th century.
- The Rocket was invented in the 10th century A.D. as a weapon of war. They were made as paper tubes full of gunpowder.
- The toothbrush was also invented in China in 1498. It may not have been that nice to use though – it was made using hog's hair for bristles…
Your Thailand vacation is bound to stop in Bangok and when it does you might the opportunity to extend your Thailand tour and visit Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is the former capital of Thailand and you only have to travel for about 90 minutes outside of Bangkok to visit. There's a good reason to take a trip to Ayutthaya the whole city is one of Thailand's UNESCO world heritage sites and there's a lot to see and do there.
A Little History
Ayutthaya was once the center of trade for Asia and possibly for the whole world back in the 17th century. Whatever goods were being traded in the region they would first travel to Thailand to be sold at the markets of Ayutthaya before making the onward trip to their destinations. Today Ayutthaya is one of Thailand's most incredible tourist havens with palaces, wats and museums galore to explore.
Highlights of Ayutthaya
There's so much to see in Ayutthaya that you'd need to extend your tour of Thailand for a good 2 weeks to see it all. So we've put together some of the highlights that you ought to be able to fit into your vacation in Thailand:
- Wat Phra Si Sanphet – This is the largest of the temples in the area and it boasts an extremely striking collection of chedis (the Thai equivalent to a stupa). It lies within the Royal Palace's grounds and has only ever been used for religious ceremonies by the Royal Family themselves. There used to be a 16 meter tall Golden Buddha on the grounds but sadly it was lost in a fire.
- Wat Thammikarart – This wat is in use today and you should be respectful to the monks during a tour of the grounds. It's one Thailand's most picturesque monasteries and the tree growing out of one wall is reminiscent of Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat. Look out for the 52 lion statues in the grounds.
- Phet Fortess – If you'd like to get a feel for Thailand's military past then travel to the Southeast Island and check out the remains of this impressive fortification that would have been used to protect the city when trading was at its height here.
- Chantharakasem National Museum – This is a former royal residence. It was last inhabited by the King Naresuan the Great. It's a very pleasant place to learn more about Thailand's Royal Family.
- Baan Hollanda – This strange place on the banks of the Chao Praya River celebrates the relationship between the Dutch and the Thais. It details the travel of Dutch workers in the 17th century to live and work in Thailand.
- Ayutthaya Historical Study Center – This documents the full history of the town and surrounding areas. It's probably best to start at this center and decide what you want to see in Ayutthaya based on the information contained within. You can also get a good insight into the local culture, local art forms and village life here. English is used throughout.
A China tour is more than just a vacation, it's a way of getting in touch with China's rich cultural heritage. As you travel through China you'll see that Chinese culture is expressed in many different ways across the nation. However, there are some constants on your China trip and we've picked 7 that should help you feel that you're in China no matter the surprises thrown at you by the locality.
- Wu shu or Kung Fu. There's nothing that says "China" better than this distinct and unique martial art. It's practiced all over the country and you only need travel to a local park to see it's closely related cousin Tai Chi being practiced in the mornings during your vacation.
- Chinese language. At first glance you might think but "hang on if my trip takes me to Southern China – they speak Cantonese and if my tour goes to Northern China – they speak Mandarin how are they similar?" It's true that the spoken languages vary greatly but the written forms are nearly identical. The calligraphy found throughout China is a true hallmark of the Chinese culture and it doesn't matter which variant of Chinese is being spoken for that to remain true.
- Sun Tzu. The most famous Chinese cultural export is a military manual. Sun Tzu's the Art of War is not just an insight into ancient Chinese culture but it also offers insight into how to conduct yourself in business. It's a must read for any Harvard MBA for example.
- Food. Chinese food may be divided into 8 major regional schools and dozens of sub-schools etc. It doesn't matter. Eating together is a great unifier in China. Wherever you go on your travels you'll be able to enjoy fresh, well-prepared and tasty food. The Chinese themselves often choose their vacation destinations for the culinary possibilities they offer.
- China's most famous person is Mao Zedong. You'll be able to visit his mausoleum in Beijing. His image appears throughout China and while he may not be so highly regarded outside of China – within the country he is accorded the deepest respects. His policies and writings have had a huge impact on the lives of over a billion people – that's a truly astonishing achievement.
- TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine. You don't have to believe in TCM to find it fascinating. In fact it may be best to treat it as an interesting diversion rather than pinning your hopes of a cure on it. You'll find TCM practitioners on nearly every street in the country and their remedies are fascinating and peculiar. The principle of keeping the body in balance is simple but the expression can be deeply complex.
- The Giant Panda. There's no symbol of China's culture more loved around the world than the Giant Panda. If you want to see them in the wild – you'll need to go to Chengdu. However, pandas in captivity (which are usually kept as part of a breeding program) are an indicator of a deep friendship with that country and the Chinese people. That's the only way to get a panda – to have China, as a nation, give it to you.
A trip to Vietnam's second city, Saigon, offers the perfect opportunity to experience modern Vietnamese culture on your vacation. During the day you can take a tour of the city and enjoy the unique sights, sounds and smells of Southern Vietnam. At night you can travel to District 1 and enjoy Vietnam's best club and bar scene.
Apocalypse Now – Thi Sach
There is no better known nightclub anywhere in Vietnam. A trip to Apocalypse Now is often a must do on people's vacation itineraries. Such is the club's popularity that it is one of the very places that charges a door fee for entry in Saigon. Vietnam hasn't really caught up with the West on this though and you won't need to shell out more than $5 for the privilege of rubbing shoulders with tourists, expats and locals alike. It's a loud booming place and normally packed to the walls. Either it's your kind of place, or it really isn't.
Lush – Ly Tu Trong
If you'd prefer your Vietnam travel experience to have just a little more style – then Lush may be more of your cup of tea. Tuesday night is ladies night and not only is entry free but ladies get free and cut-price drinks all night long. It does get busy on weekends but the atmosphere is a lot more chilled than in Apocalypse Now and the music is much cooler and more laid back. If you want to get away from the club atmosphere for a bit; there's a pleasant beer garden at the rear of the place too.
Crazy Buffalo – Pham Ngu Lao
If you'd prefer that your Vietnam tour goes completely smoothly; keep an eye on your wallet when you travel to Crazy Buffalo. It's in the backpacker district of Pham Ngu Lao and there are quite a few pickpockets working the area.
The Crazy Buffalo is Vietnam's all night party venue and you'll find that it hots up around 10-11 p.m. and doesn't calm down again until 4 in the morning or so. There are several floors each with different music policies and the crowd is generally good natured and friendly. The club does attract the occasional working girl who isn't really a girl so try not to be fooled by a friendly smile.
GO2 – Pham Ngu Lao
A little less party-hard than the Crazy Buffalo and on the opposite side of the road is GO2. It's open from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. every day of the week. The action all takes place on the second floor where dancers trip the light fantastic until the wee small hours. The music policy is generally acceptable and includes a lot of Western dance music – which is all the rage in Vietnam. There is absolutely no dress code in any of these clubs though it's only polite not to wear some form of shirt and be relatively modestly dressed – Vietnam is still a fairly conservative country even if that's not always understood in the tourist areas of Saigon.
If your China tour is heading to Beijing then you'll be spending some time in Tiananmen Square. You can easily take in China's National Museum on this part of your vacation. It's on the eastern side of the square. There's nowhere else on your China trip where you can find as many interesting items from China's history. Here's what to look out for when you travel:
- The world's largest bronze vessel from the Shang Dynasty period (that's 1400 B.C. to 1100 B.C). This comes from Anyang a city in China's Henan province. It was, as with many of China's most famous attractions, including the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an (a top tour destination), discovered by farmers. It was unearthed in 1939 and made the trip to the museum in the 1970s. It weighs nearly 1 metric tonne and is a striking testament to China's technologically advanced state at that time.
- If you'd prefer to tangle with Ancient Chinese Fashion on your vacation then you really can't miss the Jin Lu Yu Yi on your tour of the museum. It's a complete jade suit that would have been worn by the Prince of Zhongshan nearly 2,000 years ago! It made world news when it was discovered in China back in 1968. Why? It contains nearly 2,500 individual jade plates and nearly a kilo of gold thread! It's truly amazing.
- Travel even further back into China's past and look for the Hongshan Jade Dragon a carving from nearly 8,000 years ago! It was found in Inner Mongolia and you'll be amazed at the level of detail and skill displayed in this truly ancient work. The dragon's mane is blowing in the wind, it's body curves (suggesting that it might have been used as a handle of some description).
- More primitive but attention grabbing art is to be found as you travel the corridors of China's National Museum; keep your eyes peeled for the "Jar Showing a Stork with a Fish and a Stone Axe" which may not be the most imaginative title for a piece but the jar itself is from the Yangshao Neolothic Period and is both fun to look at and representative of the world that the Yangshao inhabited. They would have been hunters and fishermen in order to survive in that brutal period and it's quite amazing that they would have had the time to make something so lovely.
- One of our favorite pieces is the Tang Sai Cai Qi a truly splendid figurine excavated in Shaanxi in 1957. It's a Tang Dynasty piece probably from the 7th or 8th century. It's a camel with a group of musicians and a dancing figure in the center on the camel's back. The detail is quite extraordinary and the colors (for a piece as old as this) are still bold and attention grabbing. It was probably a comment on the trade and international relations of China back in that time.
A trip to Cambodia offers the traveler a chance to get in touch with the spiritual nature of a country recovering from a grim past. However, a vacation in Cambodia also offers the chance to take a tour of Cambodia's nightlife – it's a lot rougher and more immediate than in neighboring Saigon but that's one of the reasons for travel in Cambodia; to get in touch with the Wild, Wild East.
The Foreign Correspondent's Club – Riverside
You won't find too much in the way of wild nightlife at the FCC. It's where journalists on tour in Cambodia used to congregate but today it's perhaps the most upmarket venue in town. Think cocktails in colonial Cambodia and you'll be about right. It's a lovely spot for a little vacation relaxing, some civilized company and offers a great view of the Mekong too.
Equinox – Street 278
If you want to go clubbing on your trip to Cambodia but you don't want to leave yourself completely slumming it – then Equinox is not a bad compromise. It's a popular expat hangout too and you'll be able to catch up on all the latest news that may affect your Cambodia tour before the place turns into a party later on in the night.
Pontoon – Street 51
Pontoon is Phnom Penh's most popular nightclub. Locals, expats and tourists congregate together as the tunes are pumped out at deafening volumes. There is a door fee (though the pub next door also owned by the club is free to enter and is, in our opinion at least, a nicer venue) and that normally entitles you to a free drink inside. Poonton is a little seedy but in the main – it's all in good sport. Make sure you negotiate the cost of a tuk-tuk ride home carefully or you may find yourself facing a big (by Cambodia's standards) bill for the end of night travel.
Oscar's – Street 51
Oscar's is a new entrant to the Phonom Penh bar scene and one of the few places you can guarantee live music during your Cambodia trip. It's a bit less seedy than most of the places on this strip and that is reflected in the beer prices. There's a decent pool table which offers a chance to strike up a conversation with other travelers. Oscar's is always busy but almost never crammed.
Heart of Darkness – Street 51
The Heart is Cambodia's most infamous bar for a reason. It's as seedy as Asia can be and you need to keep a careful eye on your bar tab and your wallet and mobile phone – pickpockets abound and bill padding is not unknown.
While most trips to the Heart are fun and good-natured you may want to keep an eye out for signs of trouble and make a quick exit if things seem to be going downhill. It's an ultra-budget venue and some of the clientele include local mobsters and the worst of the local expatriates. However, the party keeps going all night long if you want it to.
For visitors on tours of Burma, one of the most intriguing aspects of learning about this country is the strong links to Nat or spirit worship. There are clues wherever you look in Myanmar and the beliefs and traditions are very much in the culture of the people in Burma.
Nats have been worshipped for a long time in Burma and the practice pre dates Buddhism. The spirits or Nats have a presence in a place or person. Temples and shrines were built separately and constructed for particular spirits including previous kings. In 11th century Bagan King Anawrahta stopped spirit worship and animal sacrifices. He quickly realised that Nat worship would need to exist in harmony with Buddhism as it does today.
Beliefs in Burma
Anyone on a cheap tour of Burma will find examples of Nat worship as they travel the country. One of the most common is found in homes all over Burma. An unhusked coconut dressed with a red cloth represents the Lord of the Great Mountain Who is in The House. Visitors on tours of Burma may see more evidence of Nat worship in the buses used for transportation. Red and white chequered cloths tied to a hood or mirror are there for protection on the roads. It is just a small part of Nat worship but important to locals.
Visiting villages is a joy on Burma vacations and many of them have a Nat shrine. They look like doll houses and are quaint structures made from bamboo or wood. Local shamans oversee the shrines and generally this is a tradition that is disappearing amongst the new generations in Burma. Another phenomenon is the possession of someone by Nats which can cause them to do unusual things. This is very real in the eyes of the local Burmese and something they take really seriously.
There are also Nat shrines outside the home environment such as tree spirits. Old trees and banyans in particular are often considered very spiritual. Banyans also feature heavily in Buddhist culture.
Throughout Burma there are festivals involving Nats. Musical events are thought to draw Nats into a festival and they are also brought in by using mediums. Anyone on a vacation in Burma may come across this intriguing way of life. Mediums are often used so that the spirit can work through them for the festival. Sometimes, a spirit enters another person at an event like this and will then need to be exorcised. This carries a lot of stigma in Burmese culture, to the extent that an unmarried girl who has been possessed cannot marry. Superstition is prevalent in the culture of the people.
Visiting Burma is an intriguing journey and an encounter with the spiritual aspects of the country a unique way of life. Although Nat worship is slowly disappearing with new generations, the traditions and beliefs are very much part of the way of life for the Burmese. When you see a red chequered cloth or a small wooden building, remember the nat.
As you're planning your China tour and deciding which places to see on your China vacation, why not have some fun and collect a little China trivia for your trip? You can always share it with others during your travel in China and even impress a few locals with your knowledge. Here are ten things that everyone should know about China:
- The Chinese, as you'll soon see on your travels, like a drink. The etiquette in most places is simple the host raises his glass, says; "gan bei", you say; "gan bei" and then you both knock the contents of the glass back in one hit. It's perhaps unsurprising given this that China consumes nearly 40% of the world's hard liquor supply.
- China has a bad reputation for pollution in its cities. Pollution won't spoil your vacation in any way – you won't spend enough time in China for it to bother you. However, it might be due to the fact that China burns 1 in every 2 tonnes of coal consumed in the world today.
- This also explains why China is now the number one producer of carbon dioxide in the world. The Chinese government is investing heavily in green technology to get this under control and the country is the world's biggest investor in alternative energy too.
- Is China getting richer? You bet. In fact China has recently become the world's largest consumer of gold. If you want to buy gold during your tour please be careful and only buy it from a reputable dealer – China is also the largest producer of fake products in the world.
- Carrying on from there and with the same warning. China buys nearly 25% of the world's luxury brand name goods. If you want the "real thing" during your trip head to the high-end luxury shopping malls and even there make sure that you inspect an item carefully before purchasing it.
- When it comes to luxury watches – they're even more popular and China buys 1 in 3 of the world's high end watches.
- A bad habit but one you can't really avoid on a China vacation; the Chinese smoke 4 in 10 of all the world's cigarettes. Tobacco controls around the nation are nearly non-existent though 5 star hotels in major cities have been introducing smoking bans in public places.
- All that economic growth requires a certain amount of raw material and wherever iron ore can be found; 60% of it will eventually travel to China to be turned into steel and then into other consumer and business goods.
- Pork is extremely popular in Chinese cookery and with a billion plus mouths to feed; it will come as no surprise that the Chinese eat more than half the world's pigs.
- It's not just Westerners that like convenient food. Not every Chinese family makes its own noodles and in fact more than 40% of the world's instant noodles are eaten in China.
Heading to Laos for your vacation? If so your Laos tour will be passing through the beautiful city of Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang's a UNESCO world heritage site and it's the number one reason people travel to Laos. Luang Prabang's not a hot bed of night life, unlike some other Asian cities, but if you know where to go – you can still have a great night out during your Laos trip.
For Those Interested in the Unusual
If you travel down to the banks of the Mekong (the main river in Laos) you'll find plenty of small bars and riverside restaurants to slake a thirst in. You should try Beer Laos during your vacation (as it's considered to be one of the best beers in Asia) but that's not all you kind find during your trip down river.
Look out for "snake whisky". That's a shot of the local rice whisky with umm… cobra blood as an added ingredient. Snake blood is prized in Asia for its supposedly medicinal properties and Laos is no exception. Don't worry it's perfectly safe – there's no venom in snake's blood. A shot will cost you a dollar (or less) and it's probably safe to say that you won't want another. Snake whisky is very much an acquired taste but it's good to try new things during your Laos tour and this is something you'll definitely struggle to try back home.
Head to the night market and then to the Phousi Temple Hill, on the other side of the hill from the temple – you'll find Utopia. Laos doesn't really have any nightclubs – there's a curfew in place which is strictly enforced but that doesn't mean you can't have a bit of a dance on your trip. Utopia is a friendly place with a mixture of restaurant, pub/bar and nightclub facilities. It also has a giant Jenga set which can be a great way to break the ice with fellow travelers and get folks talking and laughing.
The food is pretty decent and Utopia's a good venue to chill out after you've spent the day on a tour of Laos' most attractive city. It's not a high-end venue and if you prefer 5 star hotel comforts, Utopia may not be the right place for you but it does attract a good mix of expats, locals and tourists.
The Bowling Alley
If you really need a late night drink in Luang Prabang – then you're going to have to go bowling. The bowling alley is simple to find just ask any tuk-tuk driver in town for a lift. Because it's the only place open when the other bars close – they are all familiar with the location. It takes about 20 minutes to get there from most of the tourist parts of town.
As you might expect from a bowling alley; you can enjoy a few beers with friends and go bowling. There's not that much else to do but conversation between teams can help you make new friends.
Many people travel to Thailand just for the nightlife. Thailand's capital city has a reputation for wild vacation nights and lots of day time hangovers. We'd recommend balancing the party scene with a Thailand tour that lets you travel round Thailand explore the culture and heritage too. However, Bangkok really is a great place to let your hair down. Let's take a look at the best of Bangkok's club scene.
Levels Club – Sukhumvit Soi 11
Levels is relatively new and attracts a fashion conscious young crowd. It appeals to locals and expats alike with a few in-the-know tourists too. There's a great rooftop lounge for those who like their nights relaxed and two decent club rooms. One room is normally focused on R&B and Hip-Hop the other on trance and drum and bass. Wednesdays and Fridays are the big nights and the club brings in a lot of Thai models to make the party go with a swing on these days. Your trip to Thailand could certainly do worse than a night in Levels. Travel home after the party is easy with taxis readily available outside but make sure they switch on the meter or you might fall victim to Thailand's famous overcharging for drunken party goers.
Demo – Thong Lor
Don't forget your passport if you decide to go to Demo on your Thailand vacation – there are no exceptions, not even for senior citizens, no ID – no entry. It's a very Thai place and attracts a mainly "hi-so" clientele. A tour of the club reveals a taste of Thailand's modern art scene with real graffiti artists and sculpture prominently displayed around the sides. House and techno is the music policy and the cocktail menu is excellent.
Ku De Ta – Sathorn Square (39th floor)
If you'd like to combine a little more Thailand sight-seeing with your trip to a club then head to Ku De Ta – the city's highest club. Swank, elegant and not as expensive as you might be led to believe – you get incredible views of the city and the river below. There are a number of bars, restaurants and club rooms here so there's something for everyone; including those who aren't looking for hard beats blasting their ear drums out.
Grease – Sukhumvit Soi 49
This is definitely a good venue for the hardcore clubber with 4 floors of music to choose from. It's a Thailand tour favorite because of the multi-national mixture of the clubbers. However, there's also a rather nice rooftop lounge that may appeal to those looking for a slightly more relaxing time. The trees growing around the edge of the roof add a nice touch of the tropical rainforest to Bangkok's more industrial backdrop. We also like the beanbags in the Shisha bar which give you somewhere to collapse after an hour or two's dancing.
You'll need to take a taxi or a motodop to get to Grease, even if you're relying on public transport as it is a long walk from a BTS station.
If you're wondering what to eat during your China vacation don't worry there's plenty for everyone. As you'll see on your China tour – Chinese cookery is endlessly varied. We've picked ten simple dishes here for you to try during your China trip they can be found almost everywhere you travel in China too.
- Red-Braised Belly Pork. We know that some Westerners flinch when they first see the amount of fat served on belly pork; however please don't be put off. This is a China tour favorite – it's an elegant combination of all the flavors of the pork combined with sugar, soy, a few spices and some local wine. It goes particularly well with noodles or rice.
- If you'd like something with a certain hint of home during your China vacation then the fried peanuts should do the trick. They are usually mixed with a little salt, a little spice and some sugar and they're served at nearly every restaurant in the nation. They are a little challenging to eat with chopsticks though.
- You can't travel to China and miss out on Beijing Duck. It's served very differently from most Chinese restaurants in the West but it's just as tasty. Pancakes, soybean paste, spring onions, etc. are all available and it tends to be incredibly well presented in most places.
- "Fish-flavored shredded pork" is a bit of a misnomer as the dish has never seen a fish or indeed anything resembling seafood in its life. The spices used to prepare it are more commonly used in seafood preparation – hence the name.
- A trip to China isn't complete without having scrambled eggs and tomato and given that it's a huge favorite – it's easy to get for breakfast anywhere in the country. The Chinese tend to eat it all round the clock though.
- Chicken soup. If there's one thing we've found people agree on during a China vacation; it's that Chinese chicken soup is superb. It takes at least day to prepare and the rich broth, soft chicken with a hint of ginger and black pepper is both nourishing and a taste sensation.
- Potatoes with vinegar. We don't know if it's true that this lowers the blood pressure but it is an interesting dish. It's very easy to cook but takes an age to prepare. Crisp with salt and sour edge it's quite lovely.
- Mitten/Hairy Crabs. These are a big deal when they're in season and if you're lucky your China tour will be when they are in season. Steamed crabs are very good to eat and most places keep serving them until you're full.
- One for the vegetarians this time; Braised Tofu. Not to be confused with the somewhat less easy on the nostrils – stinky tofu. This is usually served in soy sauce with a hint of onions and sugar.
- Cucumbers and soybean paste – this is nearly ubiquitous throughout the country and may be the healthiest food around with next to no calories.
If you're heading to Thailand on vacation you'll be wondering what to drink during your Thailand tour. We'd recommend sticking to soft drinks during the heat of the day as travel in Thailand can leave you a little dehydrated but at night – there are plenty of beers to choose from on your Thailand trip.
Beer in Thailand
Thailand's been brewing beer for nearly 80 years now and while, in the main, it has been foreign beer that has dominated the Thai drinking culture – Thai beers are no coming to the forefront in the local bars and restaurants. You'll soon be able to see why when you try them during your vacation.
Singha is Thailand's oldest beer. The label says brewed since 1933 but the truth is brewed since 1934 – we're not sure why the one year difference on the label but it won't make any difference to the taste of Singha on your trip. Singha is a pleasant enough lager with a fresh but unremarkable taste. We've heard some people complain that it gives them an unpleasant headache in the mornings but we've not experienced that ourselves.
Singha also travels well and you can find it all over the world as one of Thailand's best known exports. There is also a "Thailand in Light" (low alcohol) version which is a bit lacking in taste. Recently Singha on draught has become quite popular and there are often special (low cost) promotions for this version in bars in tourist destinations.
Chang (or Elephant) is the main competitor to Singha. The brewery is putting a lot of money into promoting the brand and it's usually the cheapest option on the drinks' list wherever you travel in Thailand. Unfortunately, we think it's carries a bit of a chemical overtone and it could be better. It's not undrinkable but it's not that great either.
Leo is a non-premium lager and it has a companion "super strength version" Leo Super. It's more of a supermarket take away in most parts of Thailand and you may have to search for it if you want to try it during your tour. Leo's perfectly pleasant though the super version is a touch sweet. If you need a beer when you're out sight-seeing; you could do worse than Leo.
Phuket beer is probably the best beer in Thailand. However, it may be hard to track down on your trip. It's produced in the same way as German beers are and it meets that country's stringent beer purity laws. It has won a gold medal at the Monde Selection for a beer/lager and is considered by many to be the ultimate beer in Thailand.
Bangkok is also brewed under German purity laws. Unfortunately, at the moment it's brewed for export only and it doesn't matter how hard you look – you won't be able to find any during your vacation. You might want to have a word with your local alcohol vendor when you come home to see if they can track some down for you instead.
You won't find much in the way of Zhejiang Cuisine on a Yangtze River Cruise because it's the food of the Yangtze Delta rather than the body of water in Sichuan where most China tours go to. You can however, try Zhejiang Cuisine on your China vacation if your China travel takes you to Beijing. This is the last stop on our trip round China's food cultures in the capital and it's one well worth making yourself.
About Zhejiang Cuisine
Zhejiang is last but not least on our tour of China's food in Beijing – it's from Zhejiang province in the South of China and it's considered to be extremely mellow and low on the grease.
There are three major styles of Zhejiang cookery; Hangzhou, Ningbo and Shaoxing. It's probably fair to say that the best known and most liked in the rest of China is Hangzhou style. It has a clean, distinct taste with it's prepared to have a delicate appearance. It uses a mix of flash-frying, stir-frying, deep-frying and braising. Locals say that it's based on "clear, fresh, tender, delicate and pure ingredients". That's probably because of the preference for both seafood and freshwater catches in dishes.
If you're going to see the pandas on your vacation then you'll know that they eat bamboo and in Hangzhou food there's plenty of bamboo shoots so you can get a taste of what China's favorite animal enjoys for dinner. Bamboo shoots aren't as popular in other forms of Chinese food you might encounter on your trip.
Ningbo food tends to rely on stewing, baking and steaming and there's an element of saltiness that's not food in other Zhejiang food. Ningbo food also tends to be very soft and easy to chew.
Shaoxing food incorporates more poultry than seafood and aims for fragrant but crisp dishes with a certain glutinous texture to some dishes. If you were to travel to Zhejiang Province you'd see why China refers to it as "the land of milk and honey" because of the wealth of natural ingredients available locally. You can be certain that if you try Zhejiang food anywhere on your China trip that you'll be assured of a widely varied menu to choose from.
Where to Eat Zhejiang Food in Beijing?
We'd recommend Wahaha which is owned by one of China's wealthiest men – though it's worth noting that the price of the food isn't expensive. In fact you probably won't be able to spend much more than 150 RMB a head in Wahaha – you'll be too full by then. Wahaha is also the name of a locally bottled water.
It is a slightly dressier restaurant than some of the other places you may go on your tour and it's worth heading to the smarter end of casual to make the right impression here. Try the roast pigeon. It's excellent. Be warned roast pigeons are a little small and you might need a few of them. The cashew shrimp is excellent and we also recommend the Dongpo Pork.
There are some cheap tours to Burma that include a visit to Inwa which is a captivating historical site near Mandalay. For several centuries this ruined complex was once the royal capital of Burma but today it is a world away from the crowded cities. Getting here is a journey back in time itself.
Today, visitors to Inwa travel by ferry along the Irrawaddy River from Sagaing. They then take a horse and cart through the peaceful countryside, past rice paddies and ancient monuments, to the old Inwa complex. This is a wonderful way to experience the allure of this ancient settlement. Who could believe that this was once a royal capital city when today much of the land is farmed by local villagers and there are no roads as such? One of the reasons Inwa was chosen was its position at the meeting of two rivers which was intended to ward off invasion.
Today, one of the highlights of a visit to Inwa is the teak monastery, Bagaya Kyaung. Supported on 267 teak posts it is exquisite to explore with many carvings of peacocks and flowers. It is also a working monastery and visitors will see young monks at lessons as well as older men contemplating prayer and day to day activities. In fact the monastery was rebuilt in 1838 after an earthquake hit the area, destroying many buildings. For those on a tour of Burma this is a beautiful place. Inwa is also known for its random stupas that appear in fields, a relic of the past, and truly iconic of this archaeological site.
Another attraction here is the Leaning Tower of Inwa. This is all that remains of the royal palace today, and the top was damaged in the 1838 earthquake, giving it the tilted position. It is a landmark with beautiful views from the summit, even though it tilts precariously. Along the canal in Inwa are the remains of the old city walls from royal times. Visitors looking for a cheap tour to Burma will enjoy exploring Inwa as it really feels like a place where time has stood still.
Inwa also has a Golden Shwedigon stupa in a corner of the complex and another well-known landmark is the brick monastery, otherwise known as Maha Aungmye Bonzan. There are views across the river here, and to many other pagodas, dotted against the landscape. One of the best times to come here is during February for the Inwa Nat Pwe Festival celebrating the spirits and when there are festivities all over the site.
Inwa was also known as Ava and the City of Gems during its illustrious past. It was founded in 1364 when Sagaing fell to the Shan tribes and a new capital needed to be founded. In 1841 the Royal court abandoned Inwa for Amarapura and then Mandalay before capitulating to the British. It is a very atmospheric and peaceful place to visit on a Burma tour and very memorable for its tranquil setting.
Wherever you travel in Vietnam there's a local beer to be found. Throughout your Vietnam vacation you could drink a different beer every night and still not try them all. We think that Vietnamese beer is unfairly maligned in some circles, it's actually very drinkable and is made using Czech brewing methods. Let's take a trip round Vietnam's beer scene and take a quick tour of Vietnam's best beers.
No vacation in Vietnam is complete without trying Bia Noi. It's the cheapest beer in the world, in some cities you can pay as little as 10 cents a glass for it! Why is it so cheap? It's also the freshest beer in the world. It's made on the premises or very nearby (and then it makes the trip in plastic bags to the bar) every single day of the year.
The alcohol content is fairly low (around 2% ABV) because of the short brewing times and you could drink it all day without coming close to being drunk. We don't advise drinking too much of Vietnam's cheapest drink though as it can deliver a nasty hangover even if the alcohol buzz is mild. It's nice to grab a glass or two in the early evening and sit with the locals to watch the world go by.
Czech Style Lagers
There are lagers from all over Vietnam and you'll be able to try quite a few of them during your tour. If you travel round any city in Vietnam you may be able to track down many of them in a single night.
Hanoi beer is named after Vietnam's capital and it's one of the cheapest lagers available (it costs around 50 cents a can or bottle – though expect to pay more in tourist areas and major hotels). It's also one of the nicest. It has a fresh, crisp and dry feel to it with no aftertaste. It's perfect after some sight-seeing on your vacation.
Saigon beer comes in two varieties; red and green. They both taste the same and are decent pilsners but the red has a higher alcohol content so be sure to keep an eye on your consumption. We've found that typically Saigon will cost between 50 cents and $1 in most places. You really shouldn't be paying much more for it anywhere.
If you'd like to go with a truly budget option then Zorok's not too bad. It's the cheapest major brand in Vietnam and you can find it anywhere on your trip. It has a bit of a malty aftertaste but it's otherwise very pleasant.
We're not so keen on Saigon's 333 which is a bit sweet and chemical for our tastes. It's mainly sold as an export beer but we do wonder; where to? The beer we like least in Vietnam is the La Rue beer, it comes in two varieties and strengths but both have an overpowering floral taste to them and would be something of an acquired taste.
You'll see a lot of interesting things on a China vacation and it's easy to forget the people when you're trying to fit as much in to a China tour as possible before you go back home. Yet as you travel around China – you should find that the people are the most interesting part of a China trip. You can get in touch with some of China's culture best by watching it take place around you. Wherever you visit in China (well apart from during a Yangtze River Cruise); you should be able to see some Kung Fu (or Wu Shu in the South of China). Here's ten things you might not now about this martial art:
- Kung Fu was not used by the military. It was designed as a purely defensive martial art for use by every day folk in China. Today most people take a trip to their local gym to practice Kung Fu for fitness or body building.
- Kung Fu is actually "Gong Fu" in Mandarin. You won't need to speak Mandarin during your China tour – your guide will handle that for you but "Gong Fu" literally means – "work hard". The name conveys the effort it takes to master the discipline.
- You could travel back in time for 6,000 years and find early variations of Kung Fu in China. Back then it would have included some forms of hunting techniques as well as self-discipline.
- Kung Fu is most often seen practiced with bare hands but it's perfectly permissible to use weapons as part of the art too.
- Kung Fu is a system and it's important that new learners get some training from a school – otherwise they could really hurt themselves.
- Most Chinese people that you meet during your China vacation will not practice Kung Fu. The martial art is a casualty of the modern age and there are fewer practitioners each year.
- There are many well-known practitioners of Kung Fu. The best known in the West include Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Yip Man, Wong Fei-Hung and Zhang Sanfeng. It's worth looking up some of the local Kung Fu movies in China – they are visually stunning and even if you can't understand the words, the actions are usually clear enough to follow.
- Kung Fu has many different styles. The one most people want to see during a China vacation is the famous Shaolin Kung Fu but Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Qigoing, and Southern Fist are all very popular too.
- Kung Fu was relatively unknown outside of China until it was popularized in film during the 1970s. It might feel like we've always known about Kung Fu but that's not the case. The Way of the Dragon was the first film to really bring the martial art to Western audiences.
- There's a whole field of literature dedicated to Kung Fu in China; it's called Wuxia and it's very popular particularly with younger Chinese men.
Travel in Cambodia is always good fun and what better way to relax after a hard day's tour of Cambodia's temples than to sit in the shade with a beer in your hand? You'll be amazed throughout your Cambodia vacation at how cheap the local beer is (you'll be hard pressed to spend more than $1 on a glass). Here's what you need to know about alcohol before your trip to Cambodia.
Three Main Beers
There are three main beers in Cambodia. There's Cambodia which is a pleasant and relatively light lager. It used to be considered the beer to avoid by those on vacation but there have been big improvements in taste and quality in the last couple of years and it's perhaps the best of the bunch now.
You can also find Anchor (pronounced An-ch-aw) which is a cloudy lager and a big favorite of many expatriates as it's one of the cheapest drinks you'll find on a trip to Cambodia.
Angkor is currently the worst of the lot and is perhaps best avoided unless you have to try all the local beers on your Cambodia tour.
There are two micro-breweries of note. The Himawari which can be found in Phnom Penh and the 5 star hotels of the same name. They do a range of beers and while you'll have to travel to Cambodia's capital to taste them – they are very good.
There's also Kingdom Brewery which is a slightly larger operation and you can find its Kingdom Light and Dark products in select bars throughout Cambodia. However, in our experience – Kingdom is merely OK and is beaten in the taste test by the cheaper and more accessible Cambodia lager. There are also a few other hotels that brew beer on their premises but these tend to be for special events rather than permanent fixtures. Keep an eye on the local English language press for details while you're in the country.
You may not have been thinking cider for your trip to Cambodia but there is a local cider (sort of) that's becoming very popular. Brunty's (who use the same premises as Kingdom for brewing) import cider apples from the UK and then manufacture cider in Cambodia. They also do a Strawberry and also a Pear flavor. This cider has been very well received locally and if it's not quite up to cider in rural Somerset – it's the next best thing. It makes for a refreshing change from lager and when served over ice – it's a great way to cool down after a long day's travel.
If there's one thing you should probably avoid in terms of alcohol in Cambodia it's the local rice whiskey. Production tends to be somewhat informal and we know people who've been very ill after even a glass or two. It is very, very cheap (you can buy a liter for around $1.50) but it could ruin your fun too.
If you're going to take a vacation in Laos and you'd like to try the local alcoholic beverages then you may be wandering what to try during your Laos tour. There are two main local brews; one is a beer and the other is a rice whiskey and most people find them to be quite pleasant. You can probably only find the whiskey on your Laos trip but Beer Lao may just make it out of Laos and travel to a specialist bottle shop near you. Here's the lowdown:
South East Asia doesn't have the best of reputations for beer. You'll quickly see why if you decide to drink local on your Laos tour – Thai and Cambodian beers in particular aren't all that great. However, the most local drink of them all Beer Lao is very well-respected by the beer drinking community. It's made from jasmine rice and is complemented with imported (German) hops and yeast.
It's extremely cheap and you can find it anywhere during your Laos vacation for around $1 for a big bottle. It does, however, pack a reasonable alcoholic punch at 5% alcohol by volume and in the heat of the day; it's best to consume it lightly. You don't want to trip and fall in Laos because the beer has made you giddy. It's also Laos' best known export and the beer is now exported around the world.
For those who prefer a lower alcohol content – you can always try a Beerlao Light (2.9% ABV) thought here is a bit of a compromise on the taste to the connoisseur's palate. Beerlao Dark is even stronger than Beer Lao and it might be a bit harder to find on your Laos tour.
The brewery (The Laos Beer Company) also makes a beer called LaneXang (a million elephants) which is relatively unknown still but is a decent if unsurprising local lager.
Lao-Lao (Laos Rice Whiskey)
If you want a cheap but exceedingly strong drink while you travel round Laos; look no further than Lao-Lao. It may be the cheapest alcoholic beverage in the world weighing in at around $1 a liter. That's an incredible amount of alcohol per dollar.
Should you try it? You might assume that at that price it's undrinkable. After all in many parts of the world the only drink you can find in the same range will have been produced in an illicit still and contain all sorts of unsavory ingredients. You'll be surprised to find that Lao-Lao is in fact very palatable. There's a vanilla undertone and if you mix it with some of the local juices it's quite drinkable. We'd say that it compares well with a cheap vodka.
You can find Lao-Lao pretty much anywhere during your Laos trip though it is cheaper in supermarkets than in bars. If you'd like to see the drink being made – you can find the Whiskey Village near the Pak Ou Caves in Luang Prabang. It's definitely worth a visit.
The Terracotta Army is a big reason for many people to book their China tour. While a China vacation offers many interesting places to see and do, the army which is found outside of Xi'an in Northern China is simply incredible. If you're going to travel to Xi'an during your China trip then we've put a very quick reference guide together with the key facts about this Chinese wonder.
- The army may be old but you don't have to travel far back in China's history to a point when no-one knew it existed. It was discovered in a field by a farmer back in 1947. The farmers were supposed to be digging a well when they accidentally discovered the biggest archeological find in China ever.
- You'd have to take a trip far back into the past to see the army being built though. It was constructed over 2,200 years ago to protect the mausoleum of China's First Emperor – Qin Shi Huang.
- You can see both the army and the mausoleum during your China vacation as they are only 1.5 kilometers apart. It's not too far to walk on most days and there's always transport around if it's too hot.
- The Chinese historian of ancient times, Sima Qian, wrote in wondrous terms of the treasures that could be found within the mausoleum. He may have been carried away because we don't think you'll see any "rivers of Mercury" during your China tour's stop in Xi'an.
- The army is big. There are nearly 8,000 soldiers excavated to date and then there are horses, carts, etc. there too.
- The detail on the soldiers is truly incredible. Each one was carved by hand and every single soldier's face is unique and has its' own expression. You really can't see anything quite as extraordinary anywhere else on a China trip.
- The army is still in the same position as it was prior to excavation and that means it's ready for war! The whole army is in a classical battle formation from ancient China. Look for the cavalry and the infantry units being supported by troops in chariots. They would have been a formidable power and it shows how the First Emperor secured his rule of China.
- The soldiers and figures are not made of a single piece. In fact, each one would have had each limb created in a separate workshop and then been assembled on site. Imagine how much work that must have involved and the care and attention that the craftsmen would have had to bring to bear on the job.
- The Emperor Qin was so powerful that the work began on the army and mausoleum before he had reach the age of 13!
- A final and slightly gruesome China vacation fact about the army. When the Emperor Qin died the "lucky" workmen still working on the army and mausoleum were entombed alive alongside him in order to serve him in the afterlife.
Laos is a fascinating vacation destination and travel in Laos never fails to reward the intrepid visitor with new and wonderful things to see and do. If you'd like to take an interesting side trip on your tour of Laos then you could do worse than visit Veing Xai. It's Laos' answer to China's Guilin but without the massive influx of tourists that you'll encounter in Guilin.
About Vieng Xai
The city's name means "City of Victory" though you may be hard pressed to work out why from a visit during a Laos vacation. That's because it's not the most attractive of towns. It was, however, the headquarters of the Pathet Lao during the Second Indochina War. The Pathet Lao would hide in the cave complexes around the city in the majestic karst landscapes and then travel into Laos to fight when they needed to.
When the war was won; the new government proposed moving the capital to Vieng Xai but when the quotation for the building work came through – it was decided that such a proposal was too expensive for Laos and the capital never made the trip North.
The best reason to visit Vieng Xai is the incredibly countryside and karst formations surrounding the city. You can also see some of the recent history of Laos during your tour of the region.
The Pathet Lao Caves
During the Vietnam War it was famously said (by the American Air Force's Chief of Staff) that America would bomb Laos "back into the stone age". It seems ironic to think that it was living in caves that would enable the communist part of Laos (the Pathet Lao) and large numbers of the North Vietnamese Army to survive the heaviest bombing in all of history.
The karst valleys near Vieng Xai are home to hundreds of caves and crevices that make for perfect hiding places. The Viet Minh would travel to Laos to use them as a hideout in the late 1950s to fight the French and by the mid-1960s thousands of Lao leftists had flocked to join them.
The caves themselves were near impregnable and were almost inaccessible from the outside unless you knew where the steps were cut into the rock. It must have been a difficult life to lead as a trip at night could have been fatal and during the aerial bombardments even a peak into the countryside of Laos could have cost someone their life.
Animals were painted black in order for them to remain undetected. Schools were held for educating soldiers on Saturdays.
Sadly, when the war was over the caves then became "re-education" camps and there's a lot of further bleak history to be told. 7 of the caves are now open for a guided walking tour and you can see how people would have lived as soldiers or prisoners in the caves. The most interesting cave is the one that belonged to Kayosone Phomivhane the original leader of the communist movement in Laos.
One of the many surprises of a cheap tour to Burma are the various industries and innovations that have developed over the years. One of the most interesting is the wine industry which is increasingly popular in a land traditionally associated with jungles. Here's the lowdown on one of Burma's exciting new industries.
There have been vineyards in Myanmar for a few years now and there are several on the hills above Lake Inle. Several Burma tours take in this part of the country and a visit to a vineyard is really interesting. The climate in Shan State is ideal for growing grapes and the sheltered slopes of the hillsides are a perfect position. There are around 400,000 vines above Lake Inle which were imported from France and Spain. The two climates in this region are perfect for grapes with cold nights and sunny days from October to March, and wet hot weather from April to September. There is no true winter in Burma and so the vines grow fast, requiring constant pruning. In the dry season the vines grow and bloom during November. During February and March the grapes are harvested and turned into wines.
Anyone planning a tour of Burma should try and taste the wine produced here. It is sold in upmarket restaurants and also at the vineyards. Wine tasting tours are really popular in Myanmar. There are both red and white wines produced in Myanmar and also fortified varieties. The red grapes grown on Lake Inle tend to be the Shiraz variety but Pinot Noir is also popular. The yield here is lower than vineyards at a temperate zone. Fortified wines are also produced in this region and the White Muscat is very popular. The Red Mountain Estate is one of the major producers in the region and produces around 500 cases a year of fortified wine.
White wines are a favourite in Myanmar and anyone planning a vacation in Burma should check out a glass of the local vintage. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc do well in Burma. The chardonnay is prepared in an oak barrel. There are also late harvested crops that combine with Muscat grapes to produce a rich white wine here. This is known as Late Harvest.
Matching wines to Asian cuisine is a challenge as the flavours can be overpowering. Lighter red wines are ideal with some of the richer food flavours, whilst whites go well with fish. Many upmarket restaurants in Myanmar have local wine; however it is not widely encountered overseas. The vineyards have provided much needed work for the hill tribe people and are growing in popularity.
In Myanmar, do look out for local wine on tours to Burma. Tasting the produce is a delight and a highlight for foodies and wine connoisseurs. It is yet another chapter in the tale of this intriguing country and relaxing with a glass or two of Burmese wine after a day of sightseeing is a lovely way to end an evening.
Our tour of all China's regional cookery schools in Beijing moves on again today. If you can't fit a Yangtze River Cruise or a trip to Chengdu or Chongqing into your China vacation – then you can still try the most famous of China's cuisines in the capital. There's so much great food in China and there's no need to miss out on any of it if you're going to travel to Beijing.
About Sichuan Cuisine
Sichuan cuisine is the most popular of all the schools of cookery in China; it's served nearly everywhere in the country and you can't take a China vacation without making a trip to a Sichuan restaurant. Sichuan food is easily identified by its hot and spicy flavors and you'll find that it makes incredible use of peppers and chilies. If you are worried about how spicy a Sichuan meal may be – it's perfectly OK to ask the wait staff to keep the heat down during cooking.
Ingredients are always selected for their freshness and Sichuan cuisine is a tour de force of everything that Chinese kitchens have to offer. You can always rely on being able to access a wide range of ingredients including poultry, fish, pork, beef, tofu and vegetarian options. While there are many methods of cooking in Sichuan cuisine by far the most predominant is fast-fried food though sautéing, steaming, and baking are also popular.
Why is Sichuan cuisine so popular in China? It's the unique blend of hotness, sourness and ensuing numbness that the spicy dishes provide. Many meals come with a thick gravy with a complex blend of flavors. It is said that this means that Sichuan food provides "one dish with one flavor but a hundred dishes with a hundred different flavors".
The most authentic Sichuan food can be found during a Yangtze River Cruise or on a trip to the two biggest cities in Sichuan; Chongqing and Chengdu. If you aren't going to make it to those destinations then our recommendation for Sichuan food in Beijing is as follows:
Where to Eat Sichuan Food in Beijing?
Chuan Ban is the best place for Sichuan food in China's capital; it's a home away from home for Sichuan's local government representatives and it practically oozes authenticity with every bite.
Like most government restaurants it's a little Spartan on the decoration front and there's absolutely no need to book. However, we'd recommend arriving outside of the busiest hours as you may need to wait up to 30 minutes for a seat at lunchtime and early evenings.
If you're not sure what to have; then the Sichuan Hotpot might be the perfect way to go. Take a "half and half" version with a non-spicy and a spicy broth and cook whatever ingredients you like at the table. Otherwise the Kung Pao chicken (which should be a familiar dish to most Americans) or the twice-cooked fatty pork are both excellent. For those looking for something exotic to try; the ox lung makes for a decidedly different starter. The restaurant is excellent value and you'll pay no more than 150 RMB per person for a huge meal.
Travel in Cambodia is often fixated on the temples of Angkor Wat. Whilst you definitely should not miss Angkor Wat on your Cambodia vacation there are other places in the country that are worth your attention too. If you'd like to see a whole different side of life on your Cambodia trip then you should take a tour of Tonle Sap and the floating villages when your Cambodia tour reaches Siem Reap.
About Tonle Sap
Tonle Sap is the largest lake in South East Asia. It is formed by the confluence of two rivers – the Mekong and the Tonle Sap. It's the main source of protein for Cambodians with nearly 80% of the nation's diet dependent on fish, prawns, etc. caught in its waters. It's a short trip from Siem Reap to the lake and it's also accessible easily from Battambang and Phnom Penh the other two major cities in Cambodia.
One of the most unusual things about the Tonle Sap is the way that the water travels in opposite directions for 6 months of the year at a time. During the rainy season – water floods the lake from the Mekong and the lake increases in size by nearly 7,000 square kilometers! Then when Cambodia's dry season hits – the water flows back out of the lake into the Mekong and it shrinks back to a shadow of its former size.
It is an incredible region of biodiversity and there over 300 species of fish that live in the waters, it is a vital bird breeding ground for the whole region not just Cambodia and you can also find otters, turtles, crocodiles, etc. A tour of the lake is, unsurprisingly, best conducted by boat where you can see this wealth of wildlife for yourself.
About the Floating Villages
Not everyone in Cambodia is Cambodian. The floating villages of Tonle Sap are peopled with ethnic Vietnamese. They are among the poorest people in the region and it's worth remembering this before you become frustrated on your vacation by the occasional request for money during a visit. The villages move with the ebb and flow of the lake itself and you'll find that in rainy season they are a lot closer to Siem Reap than during the dry season. It's not a long trip whichever way but the boat journeys to see the villages are easier during the rainy season.
There's a crocodile farm at the closest village and you can see the animals being raised before becoming a big money earner (for Cambodia). An adult crocodile sells for around $700 and takes years to raise. That means by the time a crocodile has donated its skin to become a wallet or a pair of boots that the products are incredibly expensive by local standards.
Other highlights of a visit to the floating villages include a sight of Cambodia's finest floating school (children are dropped off by boat at the start of the day to study). You can also watch the local fishermen at work.
If you can't decide whether to take a Yangtze River Cruise as part of your China tour package then this might help. We've found that many people say it's their favorite part of their China vacation and that travel on a boat in China combined with the majesty of Asia's mightiest river is simply unforgettable. Here are some great reasons to take a Yangtze River Cruise:
- The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and the 3rd longest in the world; along with the Nile and the Amazon it's simply an incredible water course
- The three gorges region – this may be the most beautiful stretch of the river, it's a must see part of China and the number one reason for you to include a Yangtze River Cruise in your vacation. It covers a stretch of nearly 200 kilometers of river and the geography is so varied that you will spend most of the time gazing at the scenery in open-mouthed wonder.
- Countries live and breathe on their rivers. They have been the source of nourishment, transport and trade for millennia. You can't begin to understand China until you've seen river life. Today, there are still small boats plying their trade and competing with the more-modern vessels needed to support China's stratospheric growth. Travel along the river and see the last insights into China's ancient river culture before it's swept away by the new industrial age.
- The three gorges dam; is the world's largest hydro-electric power station. You can't believe the scale and incredible feat of engineering that it is until you've seen it from the water on a Yangtze River Cruise. It's the most striking sight in China and the noise made from the water cascading from it is incredible.
- The Shibaozhai Pagoda looms over the water and your trip isn't complete until you've seen it. If you can get away to climb to the 12th floor you can meet the King of Heaven! The whole building is dedicated to the three kingdoms period of China and it's one of the most interesting temple complexes in the country.
- Shennong Stream offers a completely different kind of sight… naked boatmen. Well, to be truthful you're not likely to see them as they tend to shy away from visitors but they are there if you look carefully. However, the best reason to see Shennong Stream is the hanging coffins left by the Tujia ethnic group. There's nothing quite like them anywhere else in China.
- Then there's the cruise ship itself. Travelling in luxury on the river is a wonderful experience. The boats are comfortable and modern. You can catch a few rays on the sundeck between taking pictures of all the wonderful sights along the banks. You can get a great Chinese meal and enjoy it in the company of fellow travelers. The social aspect of travel is often neglected elsewhere because it's difficult to coordinate individual schedules – when you're on a cruise it's a great place to meet and make new friends.
A trip to Vietnam isn't complete until you've taken the time to travel round Hanoi, Vietnam's capital city. The city's proximity to China and relative seclusion until recent times give it a unique culture and there's nowhere quite like it elsewhere on your Vietnam vacation. When your Vietnam tour stops there – you should take some time to explore the Old Quarter.
About the Old Quarter of Hanoi
The chaos of the old quarter spans centuries; the rabbit warren of streets began construction in the 13th century and have been added to and rebuilt constantly ever since. A trip round the old quarter allows you to see Vietnam's current hustle and bustle imposed over the quirky historical tendency to hustle and bustle. You should be careful during your tour of this part of the city as the traffic is worse than anywhere else in Vietnam; in particular keep an eye out for cyclos and motorbikes on the sidewalks.
The best place to begin your trip round the old quarter is at Hoan Kiem Lake and then follow the streets leading away from it. They are said, by the Vietnamese, to resemble a tree emerging from the waters of the lake.
The most recently built part of the old quarter is the Western Edge which was built in the early 19th century. The additional capacity was needed to serve the recently completed Hanoi Citadel which was Vietnam's greatest fortress.
What Should I See in the Old Quarter?
Dong Xuan, is the largest market in Vietnam and if you want to pick up some souvenirs from your vacation – you can't go wrong here. You must haggle hard if you want a bargain. On our last visit a quote price of 500,000 Dong for a t-shirt could be knocked down to 40,000 Dong!
Don't spend the whole day shopping; once you're done – travel around the area and look for the Communal Houses that were established by the city's guilds. Each has a small temple and courtyard attached to it and they're a fascinating insight into Vietnam's distant and more capitalist past.
There are Buddhist and Daoist temples all over the place – the Bach Ma Temple in particular is well worth taking some time at.
The tube houses, are famous throughout Vietnam, they are long narrow properties that were divided into sections for the entire family and the business. Why were they built like this? Well, it's because at the time of construction the government taxed a home on the amount of frontage it occupied. So it was much cheaper to build a long, narrow home than to build a mansion. You can see evidence of this elsewhere on your vacation but it's only in Hanoi that so many examples of this kind of housing survive.
There are also plenty of grand colonial buildings along the streets – you'll need to look up to see them at their best as many of the ground level accommodations have now been converted into store fronts.
Thailand is the most popular vacation destination in South East Asia. More than 20 million people will travel to Thailand's capital, Bangkok, alone this year. It's easy to focus all your attention on Thai temples and sights during your Thailand tour but you can get a lot more from Thailand if you allow yourself to travel a little but away from the usual tourist places and see some of the other cultures that have contributed to the development of the country. One of the nicest places to do this is in Bangkok's Chinatown.
About Bangkok's Chinatown
As the biggest nation in Asia, it is unsurprising that China's influence can be found throughout the continent. In Thailand you'll find that the Chinese have been living and working in the nation so long that they are inextricably linked with its political and military systems. To get to Chinatown take a short trip along the river or catch a taxi to the area.
What's To Do in Chinatown?
As with Chinatowns everywhere one of the most important facets of a visit is to go shopping. If you'd like to take some interesting clothing or fabrics home from your Thailand vacation you might want to visit Sampen Lane and the Pahurat Textile Markets. Even if you don't buy anything during your tour of the area – you'll enjoy the spectacle of men carrying more good on their persons than you could image would be possible. If you'd like to find out more about the history of the Chinese in Thailand then travel to Saphantawong Museum and you can find out how the early immigrants to the country settled in and became part of the fabric of the nation.
There's also the chance to see Thailand's national religion – Chinese style. Head to Wat Mangkon Kamalwat and see the Chinese-Buddhist community practicing their faith. There are also strong Daoist influences at this temple and it's a unique sight that can't be found elsewhere on your Thailand vacation.
Then there's the Temple of the Golden Buddha, Wat Traimat. You may think that if you've seen one Buddha statue during your Thailand tour then you have seen them all. However, this Buddha is different – it's made of more than 5 tons of pure gold and it is the most valuable religious artifact (based on raw material value) in the city.
What's unique about this Buddha is that until the mid-1950s – they didn't know that it was made of gold. It had been layered in another material and it wasn't until workmen in the temple dropped the statue when they were moving it that the gold was revealed! The plaster covering is now kept on display nearby.
If you want to see some of Thailand by rail then you can get a ticket to travel anywhere in the country from the nearby Hualampong Railway Station. It's an extremely busy place and if you are going to buy a ticket – we recommend you get there as early as possible in the morning.
If you're planning your China vacation and finding it hard to work out which places to include on your China tour – we think you should consider a trip to Chengdu in China's Sichuan province. Here's some great reasons to do so before you book your China travel experience:
- Chengdu is central to China's Daoist faith. If you haven't had any experience of this belief system before you travel then it's a great place to learn more.
- The Wangjiang Tower Park is in Chengdu it's a 14th century (and onwards) memorial to Xue Toa the leading female poet of China's Tang Dynasty. It's an enchanting place and one that's worth making the trip to Chengdu for, particularly if you enjoy a little relaxation and mediation.
- If you take a tour a little distance outside of Chengdu you can visit the Tiantai Mountain the only syncline hills in all of China. There is a chain of 7 waterfalls here and they are considered to be the most spectacular in the nation.
- The Wuhou temple is the only one in China which makes offerings to both an emperor and a minister and it also contains the largest collection of relics from the "Three Kingdoms" period of China's history.
- The poet Du Fu's home on the Western edge of the city is a tranquil paradise. If you want to connect with the country's literary history during your vacation this is the perfect place to do it.
- The ancient town of Luo Dai; this is not on many foreign tour itineraries and yet it's a lovely place and one of the few Hakka settlements in this part of China. It's incredibly well preserved and many of the streets and buildings are over 1,000 years old.
- It's a bit of a drive out of Chengdu but the Xiling Snow Mountain resort offers the chance to ski, skate and see some of the incredible biodiversity of this corner of China. There's a lot of very rare wildlife and plant life to be found.
- It doesn't get any older than the Jinsha Relics in Chengdu. These date back nearly 2 millennia BC and the 300,000 square meter excavation site offers a fascinating insight into the country before it was known as China. The ivory, gold and jade work on display are incredible.
- The Dujiangyan Irrigation System the only ancient world hydropower project in the world. It's also an area of outstanding natural beauty – it's still used to today to help irrigate over half-a-million hectares of land.
- Mount QIngcheng, a UNESCO heritage site and one of the most important mountains for Daoists in the world. There are 36 peaks, dozens of caves and the landscape is literally strewn with temples. It's an unmissable experience.
- The giant panda. If you want to connect with China's most famous animal symbol – you have to travel to Chengdu. It's here that you can find the breeding sanctuary and care programs for pandas. It's the number one reason to visit the city but as you can see; there are many other good reasons to include Chengdu in your itinerary.
When you travel to Vietnam; you'll never be short of things to see and do. A Vietnam vacation can combine history, luxury and leisure to ensure that you remember your trip to Vietnam for a lifetime. One popular destination on a Vietnam tour is the ancient city of Hoi An – A UNESCO heritage site and extraordinarily well-preserved insight into life in South East Asia from the 15th to 19th centuries.
About Hoi An
There's been a city on the site of Hoi An for nearly 2,000 years though there's nothing quite that ancient to see during your Vietnam tour. From the 7th century until the 10th century the harbor here was the center of the spice trade and controlled by the Cham Empire. People would travel from all over Asia to Vietnam to conduct business in Hoi An and the city would have been one of the wealthiest on earth.
It remained an important trade center into the 17th centuries where the city would have served the Chinese and Japanese traders coming down from the North of Asia. During that period the city was divided into two halves; with the Japanese bridge in the center dividing the city. It is believed to be the only covered bridge in Asia that has a Buddhist Temple attached to it. Giving you another good reason to include Hoi An on your Vietnam vacation. The city was so important to the Japanese that they called it "the heart of Asia" and believed that the dragon of Vietnam slept beneath the city to protect it.
The city's fortunes would trip and fall in the 18th century. Vietnam came under French rule and they moved their trading operations to Da Nang (a city further along the coast). This is good news for your tour of Vietnam because Hoi An fell out of favor as a trading port – it remained almost entirely untouched by the next 200 years of Vietnamese history.
Hoi An was given World Heritage Status in 1999; UNESCO cited the extraordinary preservation of the character of the town and the mixture of both local and foreign architecture as the reason for the award. The city is truly lovely and the best time to book your Vietnam vacation (if you want to visit Hoi An) is May or June when the weather is calm and reasonably mild.
There are four museums within the city of Hoi An and each of them is dedicated to highlighting an aspect of Vietnamese culture and history. There is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Museum of History and Culture which used to be a pagoda for worship. Then there's the Hoi An Folklore Museum dedicated to folk art in the region. There's also the Museum of Trade Ceramics which offers an insight into the development of the ceramics trade throughout Asia and demonstrates Hoi An's importance as a center of the trade. You will also find the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture which charts the full 2,000 year history of Hoi An as well as the story of the city's original settlers 2,000 years ago.
While Bangkok is the reason that most tourists travel to Thailand there's a lot of splendor to be found on a trip to Northern Thailand too. Chiang Mai is surrounded by jungle all set to a backdrop of mountains. It's far from the usual Thailand vacation destinations and a long way from the beach. Yet, there's a good reason for a Thailand tour to stop in the city – it's one of the most beautiful places in the country and there are some spectacular places to visit there including Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.
About Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
If the name seems like a bit of a mouthful it's OK to shorten it to Doi Suthep (that's what the locals do). It's one of the most sacred sites in Thailand for the Theravada Buddhist majority. Your tour party will find it in the mountains just outside of Chiang Mai and it's one of the best places to see the whole city from.
The history of the temple is somewhat vague. You may here many different versions during your trip to Doi Suthep but the only thing that is clear is that it was probably built in the year 1383. That date coincides with the date of the first stupa (or as they say in Thailand "chedi") that can be found on the site. As with many Buddhist temples it has been repaired, expanded and upgraded regularly throughout the years in order to maintain its holy appeal to worshippers. It wasn't until 1935 that a road was built to enable travel from Chiang Mai by vehicle.
A monk called Sumanthera is said to have had a dream instructing him to visit a place called Pang Cha in Thailand. He did as the dream told him to and when he arrived he found what is believed to be the shoulder bone of the Buddha. It had magical powers including the ability to vanish and to replicate itself. The monk took the bone to the then King of Thailand, Dharmmaraja. The king wasn't impressed with the gift – he found that it had no unusual characteristics and told the monk to keep it.
This wasn't the end of the story for the monk or the relic. The King of the Lanna people was on vacation in Thailand at this time and when he heard of the relic – he sent a polite request to the King of Thailand to see if he could have it. The king agreed and the King of the Lanna split the relic in half and enshrined one piece in Southern Thailand and the other was placed on the back of a white elephant (the luckiest and most unusual animal in Thailand). The elephant would then go on to travel far through the jungle before collapsing at the site of Doi Suthep.
What to Look Out for at Doi Suthep
The Hindu and Buddhist influences in union make this a favorite destination on a trip to Thailand. You'll find pagodas and statues galore that represent both of these Eastern religions. You should also spend some time soaking up the view of Chiang Mai below which is truly splendid.
A trip to China almost always involves travel to see the Teracotta Warriors in Xi'an. They are one of the most ancient and archetypal sights in all of China. However, Xi'an's not a city that everyone is familiar with and some people wonder what they'll do during the nights when their China tour reaches the city. The good news is that there's plenty to do in the city at night and here are some great ideas for your China vacation:
The Fountain and Music Show (Near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda)
If your China vacation is between January and November then you can catch this rather eclectic show near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda every evening. The fountains are spread out over an area of more than 100,000 square meters – so don't worry that you won't be able to see anything, there's plenty of room. It also has the largest acoustic complex in the world and that means you'll also be able to hear everything too.
This is one of the few occasions where China can match American technological muscle and if you enjoy trips to Disney sound and light shows; you'll very much enjoy this.
The Tang Dynasty Show
If you'd prefer a little more history with your sounds and lights on your China tour then head to the Tang Dynasty Palace just before 7 p.m. There's a dumpling dinner for you to feast on before the show and then there's a charming (though not as technically thrilling) show that incorporates the best of Imperial Chinese culture. You won't see anything else like this on your China vacation – so if you get the chance it's very much worth attending.
Bars in Xi'an
Xi'an has somewhat less exposure to Western influences than other places you might travel to in China. That means going out at night tends to involve spending time in Chinese nightclubs. The plus points of this are that foreigners are very welcome in these places. You will feel completely secure and you may find that you make local friends very quickly – do not be surprised if everyone wants to buy you a drink. However, the music is generally very loud and very dance-music oriented. Don't expect to hear traditional Chinese music in a nightclub.
Your options include:
Xi'an Diwang Club (Beilin District)
Boasting the best sound system in town; this is where the cool kids hang out and the price tags on the drinks reflect that. It's not cheap but you won't have a bad night out. It closes at midnight though so don't leave it too late to get started.
One Plus One (Beilin District)
If you want to meet Xi'an's tiny expat community on your China tour then many of them can be found in One Plus One – it's one of the only places where you may hear a little Western music too. It's easy to find too as all the taxi drivers know it.
Shaanxi Ro yal Nightclub (Beilin District)
A little lower down the class scale but still a great night out. Drinks are cheaper and the crowd a little less prententious than in the Xi'an Diwang Club.
A vacation in Cambodia is all about the temples; most people make their trip to Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding archaeological park. There's no doubt that they are the most impressive collection of temples in Cambodia but if you travel a bit out of Siem Reap – you can find another impressive temple complex with just a fraction of the visitor numbers. Koh Ker, is the ancient capital of Cambodia and it's very much worth trying to squeeze it into your tour.
About Koh Ker
It's very important that you stick to the marked paths at the Koh Ker temple complex. The area is still undergoing demining (Cambodia has a lot of landmines in remote areas) and if you take trip into the jungle – you may be putting your life at risk. It would have been the capital of the Angkorian empire for a scant 16 years before the center of power was transferred to the Angkor Wat complex.
The temple complex began construction in 928 AD and while the power might travel back to Cambodia's Tonle Sap region in 944 A.D. the city continued to develop for another 50 years or so afterwards. Koh Ker is home to around 40 temples including a striking (and unique) 7 tiered pyramid at its heart.
The complex was "discovered" by French researchers on vacation in Cambodia in the latter half of the 19th century. Sadly, they also paved the way for French looters to ransack the complex in 1880 and much of the art work from the site is now held in the Musee Guimet in Paris.
The scale of the Koh Ker temple complex has only been fully understood in the last 10 years when Japanese researchers undertook an aerial tour of Cambodia to conduct full surveys. They discovered that the complex covers over 31 square miles and is home to 184 monuments and temples! Not all of these monuments and temples have yet been recovered from the jungle and at the moment only part of the Koh Ker site is open to visitors.
Unlike the complex at Angkor, Koh Ker is a Hindu site and when Buddhism became the dominant religion in Cambodia it remained Hindu because it was considered too remote to be worth renovating for the new religion. Thus it is remains the only place you can travel to in the country with a pure Hindu emphasis in the architecture.
There are many places worth seeing on a trip to Koh Ker including; Prang (the seven tiered pyramid and state temple of Jayavarman IV), the barays (the huge artificial pools of water constructed to serve the city and a reminder that Cambodia was once an incredibly technologically advanced nation), Prasat Thom (with 21 towers surrounding it), the Tomb of the White Elephant (an artificial hill that is said to hold the grave of Jayavarman IV), Prasat Pram (a small and beautiful sanctuary), Prasat Chen (which needs careful navigation due to disrepair) and Prasat Balang (a linga shrine).
Laos is the perfect South East Asian vacation destination. It's a country that falls outside of many tour plans and Laos remains a place little explored by overseas visitors. You'll find that the people of Laos are amongst the friendliest and kindest in the world and as you travel the country you'll see that it's a beautiful place with striking temples and plenty of history to enjoy. If that's not enough there's another good reason to take a trip to Laos – the mystery of the Plain of Jars.
About the Plain of Jars
The Plain of Jars is scattered across several sites on the Xieng Khouang Plateau. There are thousands of stone megalithic jars in clusters across the landscape. The largest clusters contain hundreds of jars and there are instances of a single jar in some areas too.
The Annamese Cordillera, travels along the side of Laos and is the main mountain range in Indochina. The Xieng Khouang plateau abuts this range and it wasn't until the 1930s that rumors of the jars reached colonial ears and someone was sent to investigate. The trip through Laos at the time would have been a hard one with no roads or public transport and a hot, humid climate to make trekking somewhat unpleasant.
The main theory regarding the construction of the jars is that they were associated with Iron Age burial sites. Some evidence has been discovered to support this in recent years by Lao and Japanese historians but there is little concrete proof so far.
About the Jar Sites
There are nearly 100 known sites across the plateau each containing between 1 and 400 jars. The jars themselves are varied too in both height and diameter. The smallest is 1 meter tall and the largest are up to 3 meters tall. They are all cut from the rock found in the mountain range. Only one of the jars is decorated – it has a bas-relief of a human being on the exterior. This is another mini-mystery for your Laos vacation – why was this jar decorated?
We do know that the jars were meant to be covered (most of them have rims to support lids) but that stone covers were unusual (there are very few to be found at the sites). The stone lids that have been found are decorated with animal bas-reliefs. However, it's important to note that these lids were found at some distance from the jars and no lid has ever been found sitting on a jar.
The jars have been dated back to 1-2,000 B.C. and are still being studied by anthropologists today. The current theory is that they would have served as crematorium jars or possibly just as grave markers.
It is worth mentioning at this point that if you do decide to include the Plain of Jars on a Laos tour that you need to be very careful exploring the mysteries there. Laos was the most bombed nation on earth during the Vietnam War and the Plain of Jars is covered in unexploded ordnance (UXO). You must stick to marked paths and ensure that you follow all instructions during your trip to the Plain of Jars. It would be awful to end your Laos vacation in an accident here.
If you're going to enjoy a Yangtze River Cruise on your China vacation then you'll be stopping in the charming city of Chengdu. If that's the case you might want to enjoy the nightlife after a relaxing tour along China's longest river. Here are some of the places you might want to visit during your China trip's time in Chengdu:
It can be comforting to get a feel of home during a long tour of China. It's also quite nice to talk to some of the local expats on a vacation and get a feel for some of the "inside tips" on any city in China. It's also quite handy to visit Western-style bars when you don't speak very much Mandarin and are a bit worried that you won't be able to order a drink.
Shamrocks (Renmin Nan Lu)
This place is one of the more upmarket Western bars in Chengdu. It's near the American consulate and attracts a well-settled expat scene rather than a boisterous hard drinking crowd. They have occasional live acts and on special occasions you may find a themed-party on the go too. It's a fairly standard Irish pub in most respects and you should be able to enjoy some good conversation.
Moonies (Shangri-La Hotel)
You may not want to spend your time in hotel bars during your trip but this is one of the better examples of a hotel bar in China. There's often live music but rarely any dancing. It attracts a mixed professional and young crowd and it's a great place to unwind after your Yangtze River Cruise.
Macchu Picchu (Fang Hua Heng Jie)
This is definitely off the main tourist route and you'll need to make sure your taxi knows how to get there. It's a Dutch owned and operated place that's frequented by locals and expats alike. It's a nice place to hang out and enjoy a quiet drink in Chengdu.
Little Bar (Fang Qin Jie)
If you'd like to get a little music in during your China vacation then Little Bar may be the venue for you. It was originally designed to attract the expat crowd but the wealth of Chinese rock bands that come through its' doors have led to the place becoming a local hangout. There are still the occasional foreign faces to be seen but this is now a local venue promoting local talent. It's definitely worth a visit.
Jellyfish (Kehua Bei Lu)
This is the stopping off point for many local nightclubs as a pre-party drinks location. It's full of young and wealthy locals looking to strut their funky stuff in front of their peers. You won't be surprised that it tends to be a bit noisy and a lot smoky inside. However, if you fancy a wild night out in Chengdu and making a few local friends in the process you could do much worse than Jellyfish. Unleash your inner animal and enjoy the contrast compared to the tranquility of your Yangtze River Cruise!